Jane Lakes Harman was born on June 28, 1945 in New York, New York, to Dr. and Mrs. Adolf and Lucille (née Geier) Lakes. Her father, born in Poland, emigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1930s to escape Nazi Germany. Her mother, whose family had emigrated from Russia, was born in the United States and was the first in her family to attend college. The Lakes family moved to Los Angeles in 1949, where Dr. Lakes cultivated a successful medical career. Harman attended public school in Los Angeles and graduated from University High School in 1962.
Fulfilling her mother's dream, Harman attended Smith College, graduating in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government with honors. An active resident of Tyler House during all four years at college, Harman was President of the Young Democrats Club during her senior year. After finishing at Smith, Harman went on to attend Harvard University School of Law and graduated in 1969 with her Juris Doctorate (J.D.). Later that year she married her first husband, Richard Frank. They have two children, Brian, born in 1973, and Hilary, born in 1975.
The stimulus for Harman's career in government and politics came in 1960 when she was an usher at the 1960 Democratic Convention, the convention at which John F. Kennedy was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President. Before launching this aspect of her career, she first established herself as a practicing lawyer in 1970 as an Associate at the law firm of Surrey & Morse in Washington, D.C. She left private practice in 1972 to become a Legislative Assistant to Senator John V. Tunney (D - California), assisting in his work on the Senate Public Works Committee. Harman then took on the position of Chief Legislative Assistant and oversaw legal activities on three of the Senator's committees, Commerce, Judiciary and District of Columbia. In 1973 she moved on to become Chief Counsel and Staff Director for the Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Representation of Citizen Interests. She held this position until 1975 when she became the Chief Counsel and Staff Director for the Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights.
Leaving the Senate in 1977, she moved over to the White House as the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet in the Carter administration, assisting Secretary to the Cabinet Jack Watson. The year 1978 brought a much publicized change to Harman's life. She chose to leave her job at the White House and spend more time with her children. The headline in an article from The Atlanta Journal and Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) on June 25, 1978 declared, "Woman Quitting Carter Inner-Circle To Be With Family." Later that year she and her husband Richard Frank, then Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, divorced.
Harman resumed working outside of the home in 1979 by returning to government service as Special Counsel to the Department of Defense. That same year she returned to private practice as a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Tunney. The next year in 1980 she married her second husband Sidney Harman, Chairman and CEO of Harman Industries. They had their first child together, Daniel, in 1982, the same year that Harman rejoined the law firm of Surrey & Morse. Their second child, Justine, was born in 1984. In 1986 Surrey & Morse merged with Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and Harman continued to work for them until winning her Congressional seat in 1992.
In addition to her professional career, Harman remained actively involved in politics and the Democratic Party throughout the 1980s. In 1984 she served as Counsel for the Democratic Platform Committee. She was Chair of the National Lawyers' Council, the legal arm of the Democratic National Committee, from its inception in 1986 until 1991 when she left to focus on her run for national office. She co-chaired the 1987 Democratic Gala, an event to introduce the Democratic Presidential candidates and begin fundraising for the Presidential and Democratic Party Victory Fund. Harman also participated in public policy activities, serving as Vice-Chair of the Center for National Policy from its reorganization in 1981 to the early 1990s.
Harman ran for California's 36th District Congressional seat in 1992 and won, earning the distinction of being the first Smith College graduate to be elected to Congress. Traditionally the 36th District had been a Republican stronghold. Though Harman is a Democrat, her platform of progressive social policies and fiscal conservatism appealed to a majority of the voters.
In 1994 Harman was up for re-election and narrowly regained her seat. The margin between Harman and her opponent Susan Brooks was 812 votes. Harman was declared the winner and certified as such by the California Secretary of State in December 1994. However, alleging voter fraud, Brooks contested the results in January 1995 to the House Oversight Committee, bypassing the contestation process in California election law. The Committee began an investigation into the allegations and hearings were held in June but any resolution could have taken another year to come about. Brooks thus decided to drop her challenge in July 1995. As required by California code, the Secretary of State continued its investigation into instances of voter fraud well into 1996 but did not return any charges against the Harman campaign. Harman won the next election in 1996, defeating Brooks by over 18,000 votes.
In 1998 Harman decided to forego re-election for her Congressional seat and instead chose to run for Governor of California. Despite valiant efforts and a clean campaign, she lost to Gray Davis in the Democratic Primary. Harman's colleague, Janice Hahn, ran for her old Congressional seat but lost to Republican Steve Kuykendall. During her time away from Congress, Harman taught public policy and international relations classes at the University of California - Los Angeles. She also served on the Boards of Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles and the Venice Family Clinic.
Harman ran for the 36th District Congressional seat again in 2000 and was elected. She was re-elected in 2002 and remained in office until February 2011, when she stepped down to take the position of Director, President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Just two months after she took the position, Sidney Harman died after a brief illness.
From the guide to the Jane Harman Papers MS 387., 1960-1998 (ongoing), 1993-1998, (Sophia Smith Collection)
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